Vision and Learning by Dr. Heike Schuhmacher was the first of its kind in Germany and has opened the eyes of medical professionals and parents alike to the critical connection between vision and learning. Read Part 1, the origin story of this groundbreaking book…>
by Dr. Heike Schuhmacher, FCOVD
I am a certified primary care and family physician, subspecializing in pediatric developmental disorders. My private practice offers children with learning, perceptual, and concentration disorders comprehensive diagnosis of underlying neurophysiological and neuropsychological brain functions and an extensive range of individual therapies, with an emphasis on optometric vision therapy.
Before starting medical school, I graduated with a diploma as a certified orthoptist from the German Ophthalmological Society in Heidelberg. Only many years later did I realize how very lucky I was, having been one of the orthoptic students at this time and this place.
The emphasis on active vision therapy was a hallmark of Prof. Kraus-Mackiw’s tenure in Neuro-opththalmology and Orthoptics. I cannot remember one single child getting strabismus surgery without proof of binocular functions and intense pre- and post-surgery anti-suppression and fusion training. Our patients sometimes stayed for weeks in the hospital to get vision therapy three times a day. Her approach to always think about vision as complex and intertwined visual functions, and to integrate these aspects into all our therapeutic work, inspired a whole generation of German orthoptists. It is very sad that absolutely nothing of this functional approach survived the development of “modern orthoptics,” which eliminated all active therapy procedures completely after 1980. The only leftovers are recommendations like: “Oh if you absolutely want to do something active, you can try pencil push-ups for CI, they don’t really help, but you can try….”
In my thesis for the medical doctorate at Ruprecht Karls University in Heidelberg, I focused on diagnostics and therapy of visual binocular and perceptual disorders in children diagnosed with dyslexia. My research on this subject was based on a four-year collaboration between myself and Professor Kraus-Mackiw, head of the neuro-ophthalmology department, University Eye Hospital with Heidelberg elementary schools and the university’s Child Psychiatry Hospital.
Decades after this work for my thesis, it has been interesting to note that incidences of binocular and visual-motor dysfunctions are very similar in my current practice (see below).
After my medical specialization I worked for many years as a consultant school physician before establishing my own private practice.
I still advise educators and school faculties on perceptual aspects of specific learning disabilities, consult on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and develop both design and implementation of special classroom accommodations for children with perceptual disabilities. Through my lectures and seminars, I contribute to the continuing education of educators, special needs teachers, therapists, pediatricians, child psychologists, and child psychiatrists.
The turning point in my professional life came with the internet. You may not believe it, but in Germany, I had never heard of a profession called developmental optometry and had no idea that something like that did exist. I simply did not know there were seminars and courses and continuing education and professionally-developed therapy methods and tools.
I will always be grateful that COVD accepted me as an international member with different educational and professional background and opened my path to a new world of education—I only had to overcome some language barriers. My very special orthoptic background and my medical and neuropsychological specialization prepared me to deeply understand everything in all the wonderful seminars I could attend. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Dr. Leonard Press, Dr. Bob Sanet, Dr. Lynn Hellerstein, Dr. Carl Hillier, Dr. Nancy Torgerson, and innumerable other lecturers who shared their knowledge, wisdom, and passion. And by the way, coming to all the COVD Annual Meetings was a wonderful opportunity to buy all the wonderful therapy tools I had never seen before, instruct myself and my therapists how to use them, and build a whole new therapy practice.
The wealth of information made available to me by the internet, including my connection with COVD and the world of developmental optometry, has taken my career in a direction I never expected. Thankfully, it has enabled me to write Vision and Learning and share what I’ve learned with the rest of my country. It is hard to say where the future will take us, but one thing is clear—I will always be proud to join others in COVD in our fight to help children with hidden vision problems.